In the major conflicts of the past thirty years, most tenured faculty have been absent. A fairly small group works on important institutional issues they know well– police abolition, admissions equity, faculty diversification, grad student unionization, among others. Meanwhile, the majority of tenure-track faculty are completely silent on budgeting, administrative accountability, pseud-integration, and other major policy questions. Faculty senates work hard to prevent the worst, but they are 99 percent on the defensive. The AAUP and unions have done excellent emergency work, but are generally too busy putting out fires to rebuild the garden shed, to say nothing of the actual house. Rank and file TT folks have not developed an alternative to the austerity university for colored children or fought persistently over resources. They have not fought obsessively against the adjunctification of the majority of their own ranks. This fracturing of TT from NTT faculty, and faculty from staff and students, is at the root of higher ed’s status as a political basket case.
There are also many many signs of academic mobilization. Just to stick with faculty: there has been good organization against anti-Black racism and campus police, for a New Deal for Higher Education, development of groups like Tenure for the Common Good, not to mention union campaigns against adjunct layoffs at CUNY, Ohio University, and many other places. The disaster has galvanized a broad counter-response.
One huge thing that must happen now is the writing of new stories for higher ed. Universities desperately need narratives about who they really are and what they really do. Such narratives are usually written for them. This is the most fundamental activity today of governing boards–to capture and define the story of the university for business, society, and the university itself.
With this in mind, I was happy to find the statement that the Berkeley Faculty Association wrote a couple of weeks ago.Called The University We Are For, it insists that higher ed admin should actively endorse the campaign to re-invest in public universities, noting that the “Keep California’s Promise” Campaign (or “the $66 fix,” for the $66 it would cost the median California taxpayer annually) would restore state funding of all sectors of California public higher education to their 2000 levels.”
At a time when Black Lives Matter movements are working to challenge systemic racism, the Berkeley Faculty Association insists that public higher education should not rise in cost and fall in quality at the moment that the historically excluded are at the university gates. . . . Social justice requires a bolder approach: one that sees California public higher education as an instrument of reparations for the historically excluded; one that seeks to renew its promise now, when it is most necessary.
Their first principle thus is, “A university in which all students have a genuinely equal chance to think, study and succeed. This requires that all be able to attend school without having to work, without financial anxiety and without incurring debt.”
Free college, not work but study, fully funded, $66 a year as the median personal public cost, genius spreading widely throughout the population–that’s a good start on a new narrative. Its authorship needs to be deep and wide, coming from every community that’s connected or invested in the university. The authors need to be much more diverse than they have been until now.
Getting ready for Biden–who will be in the White House next year– means doing much work of internal reassembly as part of a multi-year campaign for a new public university.